All Souls Day only falls on a Sunday
about every five or six years,
so this may be unusual for many of us.
It’s not a “feast day” exactly—but it is a special day.
The music, the priest’s vestments*, are different.
You might say, it seems like a funeral. Exactly.
November is when we reflect on how fragile life is,
and contemplate what comes after this life.
We recall the “four last things”:
death, judgment, heaven and hell.
We might compare how our culture handles these things
versus how we handle them as Christians.
Our culture tries to buy time!
Remember the Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon?
He was looking for the Fountain of Youth,
and he found Florida instead!
A lot of our technology is all about finding that fountain.
Even when death is near,
it can be hard to acknowledge openly.
If we or someone we love is facing death,
bringing it out in the open can do everyone a lot of good.
Sometimes family, sometimes the sick person,
has things they need to talk about.
This can break the ice.
As a priest, I will often come to a bedside,
and I don’t always know if the end is near;
it may even seem obvious to me,
and yet the person in the bed, the family,
are not facing it.
No one comes out and says, “give him Last Rites”;
And it can be upsetting to offer it in those cases.
The shame is, the priest will leave,
and not get called till its too late.
That can be a huge missed opportunity.
“Last Rites” are a lot more than just anointing—
which we can receive throughout our lives.
Part of it is simply going to confession;
the most important part is receiving the Eucharist,
and even people who can’t swallow can still receive
the Eucharist in the form of wine—
just give the priest some notice, and we’ll do it!
Think of receiving complete absolution,
and the Body and Blood of Christ, at that moment!
What peace! What a gift!
The final part of “Last Rites”
includes a litany of the saints, as if to say,
“Saints, we want you to lead our sister, our father,
safely to Christ.” It’s gives great peace.
This is the Gift of our Christian Faith!
We can’t see what lies ahead, but we fear no evil,
because we know who is there.
We need not be afraid; we have hope!
Every Mass is always offered for the dead,
and prayed in union with all the souls in purgatory.
Purgatory is “finishing school” for heaven
and we offer prayers and penances to help.
God purifies them like gold;
but they are safe in his hands.
We have Masses for the dead, and All Souls Day,
to be consoled by the confidence they aren’t gone;
they are only out of sight. They are ahead of us.
I just found this out recently—
do you know where dressing up for Halloween came from?
It came from France, in the 1500s,
and they did it on this day, All Souls Day.
The idea was to represent the procession of the Faithful,
at all the stages of their journey, from this life,
through death, hopefully to purgatory, finally to heaven!
This is our lives as Christians:
born again in baptism, we stay close to Christ,
with frequent confession, Mass, the sacraments.
My wise grandmother said it best:
being a Catholic can be a hard life—but an easy death!
When the saints go marching in,
we want to be in that number!
At every Mass, we “march” in a procession
at three points: at the beginning, the priest,
in our behalf, goes to kiss the altar;
then the people bring their gifts forward;
and then, after the Sacrifice,
we have a march of saints-in-training,
our hearts hungry for the Eucharist.
We join a long line that stretches through the ages;
it leads from this life, through the dark valley,
through purgatory, right to the throne of heaven!
This is why it is called communion—
it is the culmination of full union
with the entire body of Christ—
it is what those learning about the Catholic Faith seek:
union with the Catholic Church on earth,
union with those who are ahead of us, drawing us on.
They draw us forward to the Lord.
Addendum on Hallowe’en
(I decided to cut this out of my homily so it wouldn't be too long; but I thought readers of the blog would enjoy it.)
Our culture also tends to make death something dark and horrible.
Look at how what Halloween has turned into, all about “the dark side.” That’s a shame, because a lot of folks don’t know Halloween was originally, completely Christian, not pagan at all. It started simply as the celebration the night before All Saints’ Day.
Why did people wear costumes? This is something I didn’t know: it actually came from today, All Souls, in France in the 1500s, as a way to remember the dead.
The origin of “trick or treat”? That came from England, from the time when Catholics were persecuted, anti-Catholics would visit Catholic homes and ask for a treat—beer and cakes!—or else they’d face a “trick.”**
In a way, all we’re doing is the game kids play: I say “boo!”; you jump; you chase me around, and hopefully we end up laughing.
* Yes, I did wear a black vestment at St. Boniface; St. Mary has no black vestments, so I will wear purple.
** The footnote fell off when I uploaded this to the blog; this information came from Rev. Augustine Thompson, O.P., who posted an article at Beliefnet about this. As I add this note, I don't have that citation handy; I'll come back and post it when I get a chance.